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January 6, 2012

When I tell you that the last dog I adopted ate my cat, I’m sure you’ll understand why I’ve been hesitant to bring another into my life. “Vehemently opposed” would be a better way to describe my feelings. No matter that “a reel dog” has been on my daughter’s Christmas list for the last 2 years. No matter that Ann wants a running companion. I love my cats and don’t want any more responsibility. And I never, ever, want to pick up dog poop with a plastic bag folded inside out over my hand.

So when Kevin called up two days after Christmas to say he’d found a lost puppy wandering along Columbia Boulevard and he thought we needed to have it, my heart went into convulsions. I was being lured into the exact trap I’d avoided for years. It was either be the bad guy and put my foot down or give in graciously and deal with it.

And here were my wife and daughter, bouncing off the walls with excitement. Here was Kevin at the front door, leading (being led by) a beautiful six month old black and chocolate lab / Pit-bull mix. Here were our two ragdoll kitties running for the bunk-bed.

It was quickly obvious that she had been trained to be gentle. She knew a few basic commands like ‘stay’ and ‘come.’ She didn’t bark.

What she did do was chase the cats and pee on the floor. Ay caramba. My mind filled in her missing history with gloomy scenarios: she was abandoned because she couldn’t hold her bladder; she escaped from a dog-fighting breeder; she’s a problem child. With considerable patience Ann held off my deluge of doubt. “You’re in charge,” I told her. “I don’t know how to train a dog.”

Growing up, we had an outside dog. She had free roam of the neighborhood. Of course, our closest neighbor was a quarter of a mile away, so there was plenty of open space. We never had to teach her how to come, or stay, or let us know when she needed to go potty. We never had to clean it up either.

Once my parents let me keep one of her puppies. I named him Bandit and it was appropriate. He dug holes all over the yard and ate the neighbor’s chickens. My parents warned me again and again that I needed to train him or else he’d be given away. I tried as hard as a kid who has no idea what he’s doing or where to look for resources could try, which is to say that I failed. One day I got home from school and Bandit was gone.

Thinking back on it I feel to some extent like I was set up for failure. Had my parents really wanted a second dog, they could have at the very least provided me with the resources to learn how to take care of it. Instead they treated it as a test: my big chance to step up, in adult fashion, and handle a responsibility. Then when I failed they felt justified in getting rid of the dog, and never had to hear me beg for one again.

Whether or not this was intentional, it was unfair to Bandit. I hope he found a good home with someone who knew how to provide the structure he needed. That was my concern this time around, too. None of us had the skills. Who was going to step up? Obviously not me, but I didn’t want to set Ann up for failure. Or the dog. I’m not going to bring someone into my home and proceed to ignore them. If this dog was going to be part of our family, I was going to be involved. Like it or not.

She was damn cute. Ann went for a run up Rocky Butte. When they got back Lady – as we started calling her – zonked out in front of the fire. The cats crept downstairs and sniffed at her. We looked at each other in wonder: this might just work!

Over the next few days the dog-sitting fell on me. I bought one of those silly tennis ball throwers and took her to the park. She knew just what to do. And let me tell you, as she jogged back with her long tail stuck up in the air and jostling from side to side with that uneven Pit-bull gait, my heart melted. We went running and I was a kid again.

It’s been fourteen years since that Rottweiler tore my tailless white Siamese to shreds. Fourteen years in which I’ve held every dog I’ve met accountable for that one piece of grisly – but natural – behavior. Perhaps I took the grudge too far.

Lady has provided for our family exactly what I’ve been trying to create: a piece of nature in the city. An unassailable excuse to get outside. A new rhythm. And all it took was allowing my frozen heart to thaw.

I’ve been indoctrinated into the cult of dog. I finally get it. I get why people go the insane lengths it takes to own and provide for a dog in the city. Why they brave the rain and cold and wee hours of the morning to walk them. Why they pay for dog sitters and trainers and walkers and, for heaven’s sake, groomers. Why they consent to wrap plastic bags around their hands and pick up steaming, scented piles of poop.

I haven’t had to do it yet, but I know it’s coming.


From → Journal

One Comment
  1. thanks, bo, for your thoughts. happy to find your writings…

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